The stomach is an important organ of digestion, lying between the esophagus (food pipe or gullet) and the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). Like any other part of the body, a host of diseases can affect the stomach. This may result in disruptions in its functioning and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pain, excessive belching and changes in appetite.
What are Stomach Disorders?
Stomach disorders are are conditions that involve the stomach, either on its own or in conjunction with other parts of the digestive tract and organs. Some stomach disorders are common, affecting the majority of the population at some point in their life. Other stomach disorders are less common or rare. Depending on the type of stomach disorder, it can even result in death if not treated promptly and appropriately.
The signs and symptoms of the different types of stomach disorders are largely the same since the same organ is affected. Some of these conditions are inflammatory in nature or arise with damage to the stomach wall whereas others are due to abnormal growths, narrowing of certain parts of the stomach. Due to the different mechanisms of the various stomach disorders, the choice of treatment may vary.
Common Stomach Disorder Symptoms
Some of the common symptoms that may occur in many, if not most, stomach disorders includes:
- Nausea – sensation of wanting to vomit.
- Vomiting – sometimes bloody vomitus.
- Bloating – sensation of fullness especially after a few bites of food.
- Pain or discomfort usually in the upper left abdominal quadrant.
There may also be associated symptoms with certain stomach disorders, such as heartburn and even diarrhea. Without diagnostic investigation, it can be difficult to identify the exact type of stomach disorder based on the symptoms alone.
Types of Stomach Disorders
Some of the more common stomach disorders with simple explanations of the condition includes:
- Gastritis – stomach wall inflammation.
- Stomach ulcers – stomach wall open sores.
- Hiatal hernia – stomach squeezed into chest cavity.
- Gastric outlet obstruction – blockage of the end portion of the stomach.
- Delayed gastric emptying – slow exit of stomach contents.
- Achlorhydria – too little or reduced acidity of the stomach acid.
- Stomach cancer – malignant growth in the stomach.
- Stomach polyps – abnormal masses in the stomach (usually non-cancerous/benign).
Read more on stomach problems.
Causes of Stomach Disorders
There is a wide range of causes of the different stomach disorders. These causes may vary between the different disorders. Many of the same causes may be responsible for more than one stomach disorder. For example, chronic H.pylori infection and the overuse of acid-suppressing drugs are implicated in many different types of stomach disorders, from gastritis to stomach cancer.
Gastritis and Peptic Ulcers
Gastritis and peptic ulcers are among the most common stomach disorders. These conditions are closely related. Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach wall. Peptic ulcers are open sores (ulcers) in the stomach or duodenal wall. Stomach or gastric ulcers refers to peptic ulcers of the stomach specifically.
The two most common causes of gastritis and stomach ulcers are Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) infections and the excessive use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and other drugs. Excessive alcohol consumption is another possible cause of gastritis. Sometimes gastritis progresses to stomach ulcers.
A hiatal hernia is a condition where a portion of the stomach is squeezed through the esophageal opening to protrude into the chest cavity. The problem is mainly with the esophageal opening which is wider than normal. Some people are born with an unusually large esophageal opening but it can also develop over the course of life. This may happen with injuries to the area or with increased pressure like lifting heavy weights or repetitive coughing.
Gastric Outlet Obstruction
Gastric outlet obstruction is a condition where there is a blockage at the end portion of the stomach (pylorus) where it meets with the duodenum of the small intestine. It occurs as a result of a number of conditions such as stomach polyps, peptic ulcers, gallstones and cancers.
One of the common causes of gastric outlet obstruction is pyloris stenosis where the muscles of the pylorus become abnormally thickened. Large pseudocysts of the pancreas, bezoars (foreign objects or undigested food) and duodenal webs are other conditions that may also cause gastric outlet obstruction.
Delayed Gastric Emptying
Delayed gastric emptying is a condition where the movement of the stomach contents (partially digested food, fluid, enzymes, mucus and acid) is slower than normal. This may occur with many of the same causes as gastric outlet obstruction. It may also occur with gastroparesis.
The muscles of the stomach push out the stomach chyme while limiting the outflow of larger particles through the pylorus. However, these muscles may become weak or paralyzed. This can occur with conditions like diabetic neuropathy, GERD, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, certain viral infections and some drugs.
Achlorhydria is a stomach condition where there is no gastric acid in the stomach secretions. Hypochlorhydria is where the stomach acid is weaker than normal. It can occur with immune system disturbances, chronic infection with H.pylori bacteria and overuse of drugs that inhibit stomach acid. These acid-suppressing drugs are commonly used for gastritis, peptic ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Stomach polyps are abnormal growths that arise from the stomach wall and protrude into the stomach lumen. These polyps are benign (non-cancerous) but may increase the risk of cancer. The cause of stomach polyps may include inherited syndromes, persistent inflammation of the stomach wall and the use of certain drugs like acid-suppressing drugs which may be prescribed for gastritis, peptic ulcers and acid reflux.
Stomach cancer is one of the more common cancers. It is an abnormal growth from the stomach cells which destroys surrounding tissue and may even spread to other parts of the body. The exact cause may not always be known but it is more likely to occur in people with a family history of stomach cancer, tobacco smokers, eating certain foods, ongoing inflammation of the stomach (gastritis) and H.pylori infection.
Also read more on stomach dumping syndrome.